Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Kenley Players

Man of La Mancha

Program from Kenley Players production of Man of La Mancha

I went on my first real (double) date to a Kenley Players production in Warren, Ohio with tennis buddy Tom and our dates. We saw Giorgio Tozzi, a famous operatic bass, in the lead role of Man of La Mancha in the summer of 1970. I’ve loved that music every since. One summer at a camp, my son, then in high school, and I did a duet in a talent show where I played Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote. Strictly a one-off performance!


Cast and credits from Sugar

I went to Kenley Players one other time, in the summer of 1975 when my wife and I were dating. Sugar with Mickey Rooney and Ken Berry was funny, if less inspiring. These days, the play would be off limits–my principle memory was of Rooney groping every woman in the play.

Packard Music Hall, in Warren, was one of a number of locations where John Kenley and his Players staged productions, including Deer Creek, Reading, Lakewood Park, York, and Bristol in Pennsylvania, and Dayton, Warren, Columbus, Akron, and Cleveland in Ohio. Kenley was a pioneer of summer stock productions that combined regional actors with older stars from Hollywood and current television actors.


Program from Finian’s Rainbow

The Players were in Warren from 1958 to 1977, after which the summer productions in northeast Ohio moved to Akron, and then two seasons at Playhouse Square in Cleveland. During many of the years that Kenley Players were in Warren, they were also Dayton and Columbus. The summer schedule was different at each site with some overlap. For example, Finian’s Rainbow featuring Barbara Eden, a play my wife saw in Warren, was also produced in the other two cities.

Kenley lived to be 103 years old. He helped to launch the career of a Canadian actor by the name of Robert Goulet, who became famous a few years later on Broadway in Camelot. The scores of other actors in his productions include Gypsy Rose Lee, Arthur Godfrey, Burt Reynolds, Mae West, William Shatner, and Betty White.

Kenley Players billed themselves as “America’s most exciting summer theatre.” For many of us growing up in the Mahoning Valley, this was our opportunity to see famous stars and talented players in quality productions at reasonable prices (cheap enough for a high school date!). He provided work and a resume’ for aspiring actors. After retirement in 1995 stars like Ann Margaret and Carol Channing honored his work. When asked the secret of his longevity, he replied, “Keep breathing. And don’t die.” Good advice for us all!

What are your memories of the Kenley Players? What shows did you see?

Article sources: The Kenley Players website; John Kenley, legendary Ohio impresario dead at 103: Obituary

Bookshop Chalkboards

Chalkboard from Gramercy Books, Bexley, Ohio, April 2017

The March 21, 2018 issue of Shelf Awareness includes a short article with picture of a Bookshop Chalkboard of the Day. I hadn’t really paid attention to this aspect of bookselling before but it caught my attention.

One sees these chalkboards in many establishments from restaurants and brew pubs to coffeeshops. Perhaps a common element is that all these are “third place” gathering places and the signs create the vibe that this is a unique space, friendly, one-of-a-kind that is never the same from one day or week to the next. The signs post menus, the current craft beer on tap, upcoming events, or just a fun or thought-provoking saying. Actually the goal is to provoke interest in the business. In a high-tech world, this is low tech–and something you might have seen in a store a hundred years ago.

One thing all these signs seem to have in common–lettering skills, embellishments, and color. As far as I know, there is no vendor who makes these up. There must be a lot of local talent. I found this article with “10 Chalkboard Tips and Tricks” if you are curious how this is done. Some people do decorates their homes with at least one chalkboard. This site has ideas, and a Pinterest board of examples for businesses.

Of course, the big idea in bookselling is to know and serve your customers in an inviting environment. Chalkboards would not seem crucial. But they can be a fun and ever changing touch.

I’d love to see other examples of creative bookshop chalkboards!

Bookstore Review: The Bookstore at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary

For over twenty years, I have been coming to the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary for national conferences of the collegiate ministry with which I work. The campus is in a wooded setting on a lake in the northern suburbs of Chicago with gorgeous buildings that are a combination of Renaissance Roman and American Colonial Revival architecture. I’ve enjoyed many walks, leisurely conversations with colleagues, and rich learning experiences.

This year, I discovered one more reason to look forward to visiting. They have a new Bookstore. I learned that there had always been a bookstore in the basement of an academic building, primarily used by seminarians. Over the last couple years, the campus has completed a major renovation of its’ Refectory, renaming it Mundelein Hall after the Chicago archbishop responsible for the development of the university. Just to the left of the new front entrance, occupying one corner of the building is the new bookstore.

The store is tailored to serve the seminarians preparing for the Roman Catholic priesthood and students in other programs, prospective students, and other guests and retreatants to the campus. Unlike some religious bookstores, I found an extensive selection of works on theology, catechesis (instruction in the faith), church history, biblical studies philosophy, Christian classics, social justice, liturgy, pastoral care, and spiritual formation. Many are from a Catholic perspective, where much fine scholarship and writing is being done and that one might not come across elsewhere. There is also an extensive selection of texts in Spanish.

Like other college bookstores there are a variety of gift items including mugs, clothing, bags, and other items with the college logo. There is also a small selection of musical CDs and devotional items and what I understand is a favored blend of coffee that the students enjoy.

At this point, the store online provides online ordering of textbooks for seminarians, often paid for through vouchers from their sending diocese. The store mentioned they were working on online capabilities for other customers, so check back.

The Bookstore’s current hours and contact information are:

Monday – Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

For more information, call 847-970-4901

Since the store is located on the campus grounds, outside visitors should observe speed limits on campus roads, park in designated areas, and respect the atmosphere of quiet and reflection on campus.

Is It Time For A New Name?

Factory near Gary, IN. Photo by Robert C. Trube. All rights reserved.

The other day I drove past this scene (actually as a passenger) in Gary, Indiana. Recently I’ve been reading a collection of narratives titled Voices from the Rust Belt. My journey through this region, and listening to these “voices” from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, Detroit and other cities leads me to wonder if it is time to retire that name. Is it time for a new name?

The name arose with the decline of the steel and manufacturing industries that had been the lifeblood of these cities. Thousands lost jobs and the impact rippled through the communities. Those who could moved away to find jobs. Populations declined, factories rusted away until torn down. Rust belt seemed an apt term.

I wonder if it still is. It’s not that many of those places still suffer the effects of those plant closures. But I also know that cities have redefined themselves in a variety of ways. Some, like Pittsburgh, have become hi-tech centers. Others, because of low overhead costs, have been ideal locations for business startups. Some manufacturers have remained, leaner and more competitive.

I’ve thought about alternative terms but they all seem schmaltzy or simplistic. More than that, they don’t capture the stories of each of these cities as they are now. So my proposal? Let’s stop talking about the Rust Belt and begin talking about Youngstown, and Cleveland, and Detroit and all the others on their own terms. Rust Belt is about the past. It’s time to talk about what each of these cities are…or could be.

I’d love to know what you think, and if you have a good name for this region.

Review: Biblical Leadership


biblical leadership

Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday LeaderBenjamin K. Forest and Chet Roden, eds. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017.

Summary: An effort, book by book, to compile the a biblical theology of leadership, written by a team of scholars specializing in study of these texts.

When one surveys Christian publications on the subject of leadership, many seem drawn more from the world of business or the military, with what seems to be a veneer of biblical texts that support, or at least sound like the principles being enunciated. This begs the question of whether there is anything distinctive about biblical leadership? Is the leadership of God’s people in any way different because of the character of God, and the work of Christ, as they have been disclosed to us in scripture?

The editors and the contributors to this text would affirm this, and that the place for us to start, in developing our theology and practice of leadership, is the data of scripture, gathered from Genesis to Revelation. And that is what this work sets out to do. It is not organized by leadership principles or practices, but rather by the organization of the Bible. The contributors were selected for their scholarship on the particular portion of scripture on which they were asked to write.

Both Old and New Testament sections begin with “concept studies” considering the words and concepts used around the concept of “leadership” in the Hebrew and Greek text. Then, subsequent chapters explore books (for example Judges) or sections of scripture (the Penteteuch, the Synoptics).  Occasionally, chapters would zoom in on a particular text, and I thought these were among the gems in the volume. Two examples of these were a study of “The ‘Shepherd’ as a Biblical Metaphor: Leadership in Psalm 23” by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Stanley E. Porter’s article on “Conflict Resolution: Leadership and the Jerusalem Council.” The principles Porter derives from this study are gold:

  • Confront a Problem Early
  • Solicit Widespread Opinion
  • Welcome Diversity of Opinion
  • Render a Clear Decision
  • Impose the Minimum, not the Maximum
  • Seek Scriptural Guidance and Confirmation

This both preaches and practices well! William D. Mounce does something similar in his commentary on the leadership passages within the Pastoral Epistles.

Most of the chapters focus on particular books. A challenge with this approach is reading into the text what is not there or what was intended. Different scholars noted this and took the approach of recognizing the main theme or purpose of the book, and relating observations about leadership, God’s or people’s, good or bad, to those themes. One place where this was done especially well, I thought was Mark Allen and Dickson Ngama’s essay on Daniel that observed the theme of power of Yahweh running through the book followed by seven important leadership lessons. Another example was Edwin M. Yamauchi’s study of leadership in Nehemiah that begins with situating the book in the canon, and in its historical setting, and then observes in successive chapters the character of Nehemiah’s leadership as:

  1. A man of responsibility
  2. A man of prayer
  3. A man who was rightly motivated (by God’s glory)
  4. A man of vision
  5. A man of action and cooperation
  6. A man of compassion
  7. A man who triumphed over opposition

Perhaps one of the most important essays that explored the heart of Christian leadership was W. Hall Harris III’s on “Leading Through Weakness, Vulnerability, and Self-Sacrifice: Leadership in the Gospel of John.” This and other essays engaged the notion of servant leadership, not contesting it but showing the call of servant leaders to suffer, become vulnerable, and in various ways, die, while yet leading, bringing a Christ-centered focus to this concept, and a call to leadership formed by the glory of the cross.

There is so much more in this collection than space permits comment upon. The intent of the authors is not primarily to offer preaching or teaching material, although there is much here that could well be adapted for these purposes. There aim, and that of the editors is more foundational, that pastors and other ministry leaders are formed in their own theology and practice of leadership through the biblical material rather than “best practices” from business.

A few basic themes I observed running through were that leadership is rooted in the character and leadership of God, needs to be shaped by the work of Christ, informed by the teaching of scripture, is characterized by faithfulness to Christ in all matters of life, is not solitary but communal, both in working with teams and developing leaders, and lived at the nexus of being a servant and a shepherd of the people of God.

That gives me a personal rubric to assess my own leadership, which I found myself doing throughout the pages of this treasure trove of leadership insight. I would commend this to anyone who cares both about their own practice of leadership and the development of new generations of leadership for the people of God.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead. New York: Doubleday, 2016.

Summary: A fictional narrative of a Georgia slave, Cora, who with another slave escapes the plantation, and through a series of harrowing experiences, and the existence of an actual underground railroad with trains and engineers, escapes to the North.

The Underground Railroad has received critical acclaim, winning a National Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and being chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. This is a very good book, portraying the brutal realities of Antebellum slavery on cotton plantations, the brutalities of slave owners, overseers, patrollers and night riders, and slave hunters. The character of Ridgeway, the slave hunter, is among the great evil characters of fiction. The protagonist, Cora, is a resilient, even fiercely determined character who will murder more than on of her potential captors, even while both angered and motivated by her mother Mabel, who escaped while she was a little girl and never was caught.

Cora agrees to escape the Randall Plantation with Caesar when Terrence Randall, a tyrant, takes over for his deceased brother.  Caesar has learned from a sympathetic merchant of an underground railroad that will take slaves to freedom. At the last minute, another slave, Lovey, joins in, but is soon captured while Caesar and Cora, who fatally bludgeons a young man attempts to hold her, escape and contact the station master. What they find is an underground railroad that is no metaphor but a vast subterranean rail network with rails, trains, and engineers, built by those engaged in the fight against slavery.

Their flight takes them to South Carolina, where they hide under assumed names in an “enlightened” town educating them for citizen, but with underlying sinister motives. Ridgeway shows up and Cora escapes, but Caesar is taken. Cora arrives unexpected at a closed down station in a North Carolina town on a freedom crusade of lynchings and house searches. Reluctantly, Martin and Ethel Wells shelter her, running a terrible risk. In the end Ridgeway finds her and takes her into Tennessee, where she is rescued by Royal, a militant version of Harriet Tubman. One of Ridgeway’s men is killed, Ridgeway bound and left to die, and they escape to a utopian Freedom Farm in Indiana. But will they be safe even here?

The plot is interrupted by “flashbacks” that fill in content, but felt like an interruption. But the feature that worked the least for me was the railroad. This aspect of the book had a magical realism feel, and just didn’t work for me, but then I’ve never been a fan of this technique/genre. It seems that the main function of the railroad was to get Cora to the next scene of action, where the real interest and the strength of this narrative lay. We see the courage of station masters, to be sure, but the actual journey, the risks run by slaves, and in many cases, rescuers like Tubman seemed to be minimized, even though the title suggests a focus on the railroad. I also found the decisions to stay in South Carolina, and later Indiana, somewhat implausible when all slaves knew their only chance of safety, especially from figures like Ridgeway, was Canada. I might have liked some documentation of sources for the portrayals slave conditions and race hatred, and some comment on what was based on fact, along the lines of what Stowe did in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

All in all, the  plotline, strong characters, and portrayal of slavery and race hatred make this a good and important work. I think it could be more powerful if it portrayed the efforts of the historical underground railroad. But the portrayal of slavery and racism in this book is important to our nation conversation. To meaningfully, say “never again” we must understand to what we are saying “never again.”


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — St. Patrick’s Day


By Rabbid007 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, I was in Oxford, Ohio just in time to stumble across a Miami University student tradition — Green Beer Day. Friday was the last day of classes before spring break, and so it was the traditional day for them to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the uptown bars. I discovered that the green is just food coloring and the best way to do it is to add blue which balances the yellowish brown hue of beer. Remember yellow + blue = green? Personally, that just seems a good way to spoil a good glass of beer. Just give me a pint of Guinness. But it also set me to thinking about other things we did on St. Patrick’s Day.

So, you know it is St. Patrick’s Day when…

  1. Mom lays out green clothes for you to wear even if you don’t like green, even if you didn’t think you owned green. But in the end, you thanked her because everyone else at school was wearing it as well.
  2. You heard the story of shamrocks, which is really just a fancy name for clover. It is thought that St. Patrick used the shamrock as an image of the Trinity. There is a connection between shamrocks and green beer in that the Irish would add shamrocks to their beer (and stronger drinks) in what they called “drowning the shamrock.” Seems it was in this connection that I also heard of four leaf clovers and the luck of the Irish. Looked for a four leaf clover but never found one. I guess I just wasn’t patient or lucky enough–they occur roughly in 1 out of 5,000 clover leaves.
  3. Read aloud time was Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. Worse was when someone tried to make green eggs and ham.
  4. People talked about leprechauns. I’m not sure we talked very much about them in Youngstown. Seriously, can you imagine one of these little creatures any where near a steel mill?
  5. Mom made corned beef and cabbage for dinner. It’s thought that Irish Americans in New York City may have started this as a cheaper substitute to Irish bacon.
  6. Chicago dyes its river green. Youngstown never had to–the Mahoning was always kind of green. Not any more.
  7. St. Patrick’s Day Parades. This is a custom in many cities with Irish populations. In Youngstown, the parade actually started after we moved away, and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. For more info, here is the official website.

Seven is a lucky number and so this seems a good place to stop. I will be celebrating the day. My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Corrigan, which makes me 1/8th Irish. Again, it’s probably about the only time of the year I think about it. But on St. Patrick’s Day, it is a good day to be Irish, no matter your genealogy. Erin go Bragh!

Princeton Theological Seminary Religious Texts on Internet Archive

Holsinger s history of the Tunkers and the Bret

One summer, years ago, I got my first exposure to the work of digitizing archives when my son, something of a computer geek, spent a summer during high school digitizing old documents and photographs, learning how to handle and document this work. He wore gloves to protect old paper as he scanned documents. His work along with that of countless other volunteers is still online at Worthington Memory.

Digital archives are a profound boon of the internet era. I’ve accessed out of print books, census, geneology, and death records, old newspaper articles, plat and survey maps in the course of blogging. One of the biggest sources of digital archives is the Internet Archive. A recent article on Open Culture reports that Princeton Theological Seminary has digitized over 70,000 religious texts from all the great world religions. You can look at a first edition of J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a King James Bible from 1606 or an edition of Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection by E. A. Wallis Budge from 1912 (if I am reading the Roman numerals correctly).

When I visited the Princeton Theological Seminary archive, I was delighted to scroll down and find a history of our own small denomination, Holsinger’s History of the Tunkers and the Brethren ChurchIt is an amazing and eclectic collection with everything from Kathryn Kuhlman’s Victory in Jesus to an early edition of the MahabharataOne can find histories of particular congregations, mission society histories, hymnals, language studies, William Paley’s Natural Theologytheological monographs, and much more. These are not electronic texts but digital editions of works in the Princeton Seminary Library, with library stamps, signatures, damage and aging to the paper.

There is a search box, and you can filter by collections or individual texts, by year, by subject, by collection, by creator (denominations or individual authors), and by language. A few searches yielded everything from postcard images of Youngstown churches, to works of Charles and A. A. Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield.

Obviously, I had great fun just scrolling through the first few pages of texts. Some texts are simply early editions of books readily available. Some are works, like old Bible dictionaries, that have been superseded by recent scholarship. Yet I suspect there are scholars who find research-worthy studies in the comparison, or in tracking down earlier literature. Fine biblical and theological work has been done for centuries and to limit one’s study to the last ten years is limiting indeed.

This is just one archive within the Internet Archive. While browsing around I also came across the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) which advertises nearly 21 million images, texts, video and sound from across the United States. But that’s for another post!


Have You Been Hounded By A Book?

Pet Hound Animals Hunting Dog Dog Portrait Pets

CC0 Public Domain via Max Pixel

Have you ever been chased by a book? Maybe it is a book that has been sitting on your shelves for a long time that you have always been meaning to get around to read. Or perhaps it is one of those books you never heard about until a week ago, and suddenly three unrelated people told you about the book and insisted that you needed to read it.

I was reminded of this experience while reading The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, which I recently reviewed. His bookseller, Roger Mifflin is talking to his young protege’, Titania Chapman, when he asks:

“Did you ever notice how books track you down and hunt you out? They follow you like the hound in Francis Thompson’s poem. They know their quarry! Look at that book The Education of Henry Adams! Just watch the way it’s hounding out people this winter. . . . That’s why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop. Haunted by the ghosts of the books I haven’t read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There’s only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it.”

I did read The Education of Henry Adams but never felt hounded by it. Nor do I feel haunted by ghosts of books I haven’t read. But hounded? Chased? Yes. For example, I never got beyond the first 50 pages or so of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship until a few years ago when I read it with a book group. Yet I quoted Bonhoeffer’s statement in the book, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” I could talk about “cheap grace.” But it bothered me that I had never read the whole book, a profound exposition of the sermon on the mount. Later in life, several different friends mentioned Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace until I finally sat down and read this profound account of the “other” and how we might encounter those very different from us.

There are some books that continue to hound me. The Chronicles of Narnia are begging for another reading. Just to my right I see the old, second hand copy of the Modern Library’s edition of Capital by Karl Marx. No, I’m not going to become a communist, but I’ve always been interested in work and workers, and often come across references to this book. Haven’t cracked the book as yet. That equally applies to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one of the first attempts to define what is distinctive about the American experiment and The Federalist Papers, and their arguments for the Constitution.

One of the books that has hounded me was Boccaccio’s Decameron. I inherited an old edition of the book from my mother, one of the works she loved. A book group I’m in has just started reading this Italian classic from the fourteenth century in modern translation. Witty, ironic, perceptive of human foibles and more than a little bawdy at times, but not boring. I finding myself wondering what stories mom liked most. That goes for the set of Balzac novels she loved as a girl. Other than Pere Goriot, they are still hounding me.

Have you been hounded by a book? What was it like to finally sit down and make friends with the hound and read the book? Did the book become a friend, or did you find yourself wonder, “what do people see in this?” What books have hounded you?

Review: Faith Unexpected

Faith Unexpected

Faith Unexpected, Rick Mattson. St. Paul, MN: Pavement Publishing, 2018.

Summary: The stories of ten people from diverse backgrounds who never expected to find faith in Christ and how they found the unexpected.

For some people, turning to faith in Christ is just not on the radar. They were turned off by the church. It all seems irrelevant to their lives. Or they’ve done too much “stuff” that they could never believe God would forgive. Maybe they’ve just never thought about it.

This is a book of stories of people like this. They come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. A Latino macho man. An urban black athlete into parties and women. A liberal arts college feminist. A Native American woman literally haunted by the spirit of her deceased father. A couple of atheists, one nicknamed “Satan” for his knack of de-converting Christians. A secular Korean Buddhist photographer. A military pilot. An Asian American student at UCLA averse to risk. And the author, whose early life consisted of music gigs, golf, and girls.

The stories are as different as the people. For some, an event that can only be described as supernatural played an important part. For others, it was an impulse to attend a church, conversations with a believing friend, a book, even a song. For many, it was multiple influences pointing in the same direction. For most, coming to faith didn’t happen instantaneously. For many, it felt as much that they were found, or that they stumbled into faith, as finding faith.

This is a book that inspires hope. You may find yourself reading and thinking, “if that person could discover a living faith, anyone could. Even I could. Or my friend could.” This makes it a great gift for friends who have shown some spiritual interest. Or if you are wondering what it might look like to believe, here are ten renderings. One might sound a bit like you. The stories are short and the book is an easy and quick read.

This may be helpful to one other group. In some cases years or decades have passed since we’ve come to faith. Perhaps we never remember a time we did not believe. That’s not how it is with everyone and this book can help with understanding the journeys to faith of those not like us and perhaps help us to become aware of the ways spiritual stirrings might show themselves in our friends.

I found myself encouraged as I read this book, that God delights in bringing people from all kinds of places into relationship with himself. There is no barrier too great, and even if we are stumbling along the way to God, God finds a way to us.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.